Friday, 16 January 2015

Shock and Blowback: Geopolitics and the Global Jihad.

"If you topple dictators, you release other forces that have to be dealt with"-Tony Blair

After the Paris attacks it was inevitable the Tony Blair creature would begin to emit his usual sinister power jargon about “generational” struggle and a “global alliance to teach tolerance”. This might be the same 'Global Alliance Against Islamic Extremism' former Senator Lieberman has advocated.

Blair made a speech at an meeting of Republicans who are already assembling to condemn Obama for being too cautious and not taking the fight more forthrightly to ISIL and Al Qaida across the globe. War is nothing less than a planetary battle by the forces of good to eradicate evil.

Blair appears to think the US, with him at the forefront, must impose peace, tolerance and good faith on the Middle East by further and deepening military confrontation. This could be a geopolitical version of 'tough love'. He advocates force while wearing the face of peace and 'understanding'.

Blair is lapping up the applause and reliving the days when he gave his speech in Congress in the immediate run up to the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Back then he duly prated too on the duty to use Allied power to promote democracy and freedom by defeating dictators and so destroying terrorism

It all went downhill thereafter. No WMDs were found in Iraq, discrediting a main pretext. Iraq collapsed into sectarian warfare. The state fragmented. Then, two years later on 7/7 2005, London was targeted by jihadists said to have been so 'radicalised' by the Iraq War that they just had to kill.

Since then sterile arguments in the media have consisted in bland statements proving that Islamist terrorists murder because of western foreign policy. Invariably that is met by the predictable response proving this is a craven form of appeasing and rationalising terrorism so as to allow them to win.

Foreign policy obviously had an effect in spurring on jihadists for the very obvious reason that globalisation and greater movements of people through migration and easy jetting off to lands peripheral to the EU across the Maghreb and through Turkey has never been so easy or cheap.

Moreover, foreign policy decisions by western governments had only ended up creating fractured and failed states and so evidently provided the opportunity for Al Qaida and ISIS to take advantage of the chaos to nestle and base itself just as it had originally in Afghanistan in the 1990s.

One problem was that 'liberal interventionist' doctrines were very much based on an ethos of post-colonial and post-cold war guilt about the presumed consequences of cynical realpolitik strategies that made it all the more imperative for the west to intervene and put right for the mutual benefit.

These arguments provided the 'public intellectual' basis for military intervention in both Afghanistan and Iraq, though politicians tended to use the rhetoric of the 'War on Terror', women's rights and humanitarian concern. Fewer public arguments for were ever made on geopolitical grounds.

The obvious reason for that,whether in Afghanistan or Iraq, was that politicians tend to think the public is not intelligent enough to grasp the argument which combines self interest in gaining access to resources such as oil or constructing pipelines, with building nations and securing them from terror

In 'public diplomacy', the moment a critic of war mentioned the world 'oil' in relation to Iraq the response would be to smear it as a 'conspiracy theory'. Blair did just that for the reason that no war is only ever about only one cynical motive which is 'concealed' by flowery rhetoric.

At one level, of course, there is no doubt Blair meant what he said about WMDs as a reason for removing Saddam based on what he and his team was prepared to believe could conceivably be the case if the evidence was twisted to cherry pick intelligence data to fit the creed of intervention.

The ultimate reason to remove Saddam for Blair was that he was 'evil' and that, according to the geopolitical grand plan, overthrowing him quickly by decisive military force and installing a democracy would end with the west and Iraq mutually benefitting from the oil wealth flowing freely.

Had that happened, then Blair would have been acclaimed a global hero and a successful Iraq would have triggered a democratising domino effect on its neighbours Syria and Iran. This ideological fantasy is still held to by Blair who blames the 'set backs' in Iraq on evil jihadists wrecking it.

It is hardly a surprise that Blair remains fixated on defeating global jihadism by whatever means necessary. He realises it is a slower process to be attained by education and 'intervening' by getting other Middle Eastern states to copy the sort of progress on display in a model state as the UAE.

Given Blair's complete lack of knowledge of the history of the Middle East, it is probable he thought a state similar to the UAE or Bahrain would arise out of the ashes of Saddam's regime, one with oil wealth going into cutting edge architecture and shopping malls complete with Marks and Spencers.

Using the Jihad vs McWorld sort of analysis, it is clear Blair thought Iraq could be fast-tracked into modernity and consumerism. With new construction sites and new oil reserves being tapped both the US and Britain would enhance their energy security and hegemonic global position.

Energy security was a major concern back in 2003 in the days before the shale oil revolution in the US. It is easy to forget in 2015 that the high price of oil in 2000 led to the road hauliers strike and for Blair the nightmare of being seen to be another weak Labour PM facing empty shelves in shops.

Iraq was a war for oil and 'progress' and modernity against what Blair thought of 'forces or reaction'. It unleashed more 'forces or reaction' and so the war is going to be a long struggle as Blair has shifted from the act of trying to pose as a statesman to being a tragically outcast prophetic visionary.

Even so, the argument for ousting Assad, who was still not affected by any democratic domino effect, was not that dissimilar or less deluded than the one made for Saddam: remove the dictator and democracy would develop. The same delusion was clear in removing Gaddafi in 2011.

The idea in Syria or Iraq ( or Libya ) that in the circumstances the choice was between chaos and jihadist terror or a dictatorship and a state that was not collapsed was one western politicians refused to countenance. To do so would be seen as 'hypocritical' :democracy for us but not the Arabs.

The problem was-and remains so today-that the west is bound to be seen as holding to double standards when it intervenes militarily to promote democracy in states beset by challenges that threatened to destroy them while their allies were regional powers such as Saudi Arabia.

The arguments made to get rid of Saddam Hussein's secular Baathist regime in Iraq were essentially rehashed once more in 2013 as an excuse to get rid of Bashar Assad, another secular dictator who was accused (without proof)of having WMDs and using chemical weapons against civilians in 2013.

Almost ten years on, the US and France along with Britain had been prepared to take out Assad using air strikes using the same pretext as before. What is certain is that had this been done, Assad's collapse would have ensured the victory of the Sunni jihadists of ISIS the west is now bombing.

Blair is the object of an almost cosmic loathing within Britain for the deception that surrounded the case for the invasion of Iraq. Unable and unwilling to come to terms with the catastrophic aftermath, Blair lingers on haunting the public media as a recurring spectral presence after each new disaster.

However, most politicians opposed to Blair, for the most part, hardly have any reason to be smug in lambasting Blair for the invasion of Iraq given they had barely learnt anything a decade later when pressing for a war in Syria which would have had a similar impact to Iraq.

As Cameron is meeting Obama today, Blair clearly has 'timed' his visit to coincide with it. He thinks he is ( unofficially ) the rightful Prime Minister of Britain because he is, after all, an unhinged and fanatical lunatic. He's still packing in the crowds and replaying the past while pointing to the future.

In fact, despite Parliamentary opposition to the war over Syria in 2013, the reaction to terror attacks remains much the same as it did back on September 11 2001 when the attack on the Twin Towers spectacularly detonated the world into a new epoch of warfare that is still going on in 2015.

The way in which the global war against 'radical Islam' and jihad rhetoric is ratcheted up every time a major terror atrocity happens to justify 'emergency' measures and the growth of the surveillance state has often been regarded as a form of what Naomi Klein terms the 'shock doctrine'

It is interesting in this respect that one of the main proponents of the 'shock therapy' in the former Soviet bloc in the 1990s, economist Jeffrey D Sachs, argued on January 15 2015, in contrast to Blair, that the Paris attacks are indeed an outgrowth of the war in the Middle East and in the Maghreb.

'....in most cases, terrorism is not rooted in insanity. It is more often an act of war, albeit war by the weak rather than by organized states and their armies. Islamist terrorism is a reflection, indeed an extension, of today’s wars in the Middle East. And with the meddling of outside powers, those wars are becoming a single regional war – one that is continually morphing, expanding, and becoming increasingly violent. '
 
The Paris attacks were in the minds of the perpetrators an act of war: it is not the task of statesmen to dignify them with the status of foot soldiers of God but they politicians had their own treasons for doing so, not least to justify continuing what Hollande called the war against Al Qaida and ISIS.
 
Sachs has the perspective of a developmental economist, of course as opposed to being an expert on terrorism. Even so, the 'War on Terror' seems to have been dropped around 2008-9 as the official title in favour on the new rebranded version-the 'War against Extremism'. It amounts to the same.
 
As Sachs points out
 
'From the jihadist perspective – the one that American or French Muslims, for example, may pick up in training camps in Afghanistan, Syria, and Yemen – daily life is ultra-violent. Death is pervasive, coming as often as not from the bombs, drones, and troops of the United States, France, and other Western powers. And the victims are often the innocent “collateral damage” of Western strikes that hit homes, weddings, funerals, and community meetings.'
 
The fact most Muslim deaths are caused by jihadists and sectarian militias is irrelevant. The war in Syria and Iraq is a factual consequence of the west's allies Saudi Arabia and Qatar bankrolling and backing rival groups of Sunni militant jihadists as a way to check Iranian backed Shi'ite militias.
 
On Iraq, Sachs comments,
 
We in the West hate to acknowledge – and most refuse to believe – that our leaders have been flagrantly wasteful of Muslim lives for a century now, in countless wars and military encounters instigated by overwhelming Western power. What is the message to Muslims of the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003? More than 100,000 Iraqi civilians – a very conservative estimate – died in a war that was based on utterly false pretenses. The US has never apologized, much less even recognized the civilian slaughter.

Then he goes on,

'Or consider Syria, where an estimated 200,000 Syrians have recently died, 3.7 million have fled the country, and 7.6 million have been internally displaced in a civil war that was stoked in no small part by the US, Saudi Arabia, and other allied powers. Since 2011, the CIA and US allies have poured in weapons, finance, and training in an attempt to topple President Bashar al-Assad. For the US and its allies, the war is little more than a proxy battle to weaken Assad’s patrons, Iran and Russia. Yet Syrian civilians are the cannon fodder.'

The sectarian/ ethnic dimension to these wars is fuelled by the regional powers. The Libyan and Syrian civil wars are connected to geopolitical struggles for hegemony in the Middle east between the Sunni Muslim powers ( as it clear in Libya ) and between them and Iran in Syria, Iraq and Yemen.

The 'west', by which is meant the US, France and Britain ( and, in Libya, NATO ) have aligned with precisely those Sunni Islamic powers such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar which are proven backers and funders of jihadists in the region.

The western powers are beholden to these regimes, in fact, France and Britain far more so in the case of Qatar because of its huge gas reserves in the Persian Gulf which it shares with Iran: both powers want to pipe gas west through Syria which lies between them and the Eastern Mediterranean.

True, the sectarian divide within Islam dates back to the eighth century and both Saudi Arabia and Iran are competing for the allegiance of the regions Sunni and Shi'ite Muslims respectively. The west did not 'cause' this schism and radical Islamism has proved to be a defective guide to ruling a state

That was clear in Egypt. However, the reality is power politics because for Saudi Arabia the funding of Sunni jihadists is a way to divert discontent outwards and advance geopolitical strategies against rival Qatar which wanted to undermine the old regimes pre-2011.

The sectarian divisions and Islamist ideology merely 'ups the ante' in what are really geopolitical struggles for energy supply routes to world markets. France and Britain backed Qatar because they wanted 'Assad to go'. Assad is backed by Russia which has a naval base at Tarsous.

Both Britain and France import an increasing proportion of their total imported gas as liquefied natural gas ( LNG ) via tanker ship from Qatar. They have lucrative bilateral business partnerships with Doha ( including the sale of state-of-the-art military hardware tried and tested in the region ).

In fact, it is more accurate to say there is an unfortunate  tendency within the west for certain commentators to regard the Middle East as descending into barbarity because of a 'reactionary' and 'backward' religion because it diverts attention away from examining the geopolitical factors.

The record of western intervention and power politics in the region is not so impressive, It spanned the time from the decline of the Ottoman Empire in the nineteenth century through the relatively short period of western imperialism in most of it between the 1880s and the end of World War Two.

Sachs gives a good enough outline of it and how it would be seen to those living in the region with a sense of history sharpened by the continued crisis the region endures. Moreover, unlike Bernard Lewis with The Crisis of Islam, Sachs at least includes mention of the oil factor.

'The Western powers have sought to control the Middle East for a variety of reasons, including claims on oil, access to international sea routes, Israel’s security, and geopolitical competition with Russia in Egypt, Syria, Iraq, and Iran. The US now has more than 20 military bases in six countries in the region (Afghanistan, Bahrain, Djibouti, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, and Turkey) and large-scale military deployments in many others, including Egypt, Kuwait, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia. It has funded violence for decades, arming and training the mujahedeen (in effect building the precursor of Al Qaeda) in Afghanistan to fight the Soviets; stoking the Iraq-Iran War in the 1980s; invading Iraq in 2003; trying to topple Assad since 2011; and waging relentless drone attacks in recent years.
 
Sachs made plain that objective understanding is in no way the same as the tendency among some in the west to rationalise terrorism as a mere reflex or some sort of extreme 'cry of despair' or 'protest against the west that means 'it had the blowback coming'. Terror is extension of the war westwards.
 
'The fact that jihadist terrorist attacks in the West are relatively new, occurring only in the last generation or so, indicates that they are a blowback – or at least an extension – of the Middle East wars. With very few exceptions, the countries that have been attacked are those that have been engaged in the post-1990 Western-led military operations in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and Syria.'
 
The terrorists themselves cast their actions in political terms, even though we rarely listen; indeed, the terrorists’ words are typically reported only briefly, if at all. But the fact is that almost every terrorist attack in the West or against Western embassies and personnel has been accompanied by the message that it is in retaliation for Western meddling in the Middle East. The Paris terrorists pointed to France’s operations in Syria.
 
The argument of those such as Blair is that 'we' are 'at war' whether it is liked or not become; even if the west were to say it was not at war with the terrorists they would still be at war with 'us' anyway. If anything is a rationalisation of terrorism it is that given most jihadists are funded by western allies.
 
Observers of Middle East and the relations with the Western Powers could argue that in profiting from the sales of weapons systems to regimes that back terror or, in the case of Saudi Arabia, behead its subjects for sorcery and witchcraft, is not in the promoting democracy or civilisation.
 
The reality is that this 'war' is nothing much to do with civilisation but to do with oil, geopolitics and energy supply routes. Sachs is a prominent economist and a well known figure for his work with Bono on relieving poverty in developing lands. He can see how the war reflects economic factors
 
Sachs realises the conflict potential which is inherent in an age of rapidly developing global economic growth and worldwide industrialisation and the way the demand for oil is increasing the quest of contending outside powers for access to security of supplies and making the west vulnerable.
 
'Western actions do not provide Islamist terrorism with a scintilla of justification. The reason to point out these actions is to make clear what Islamist terrorism in the West represents to the terrorists: Middle East violence on an expanded front. The West has done much to create that front, arming favored actors, launching proxy wars, and taking the lives of civilians in unconscionable numbers. Ending the terror of radical Islam will require ending the West’s wars for control in the Middle East.'
 
However, Sachs is too much of a liberal optimism to confront the fact that oil dependency is by no means going to end any time soon, even though the US has bought itself time and some freedom of manoeuvre through shale oil discoveries and the stream coming forth in the years since the Iraq War.
 
'Fortunately, the Age of Oil is gradually coming to an end. We should make that end come faster: climate safety will require that we leave most fossil-fuel resources in the ground. Nor do the other ancient motives for Western interference apply any longer. The UK no longer needs to protect its trade routes to colonial India, and the US no longer needs a ring of military bases to contain the Soviet Union.'
 
Sachs has not realised the Age of Oil is nowhere near at an end yet. The US bases dotted around the Eurasian Heartland are not primarily based there  to contain a post-Soviet Russia. They are required to ensure global hegemony through controlling energy flows between Central Asia and Europe.
 
Bases are needed too to contain China as it attempts its 'March West' strategy through railroads and pipelines to connect it with the Central Asian states and with lands reaching down through to the Indian Ocean. The US is intent on checking Chinese inroads in the Greater Middle East: hence the continued military presence in Afghanistan
 
Apart from Syria and the Eastern Mediterranean, that means a continued policy of trying to isolate and block off Iranian energy ambitions in the region in tandem with partnerships forged with China. Retaining the naval capacity to block off energy routes to China is considered a coercive tool.
 
The US has been concerned with China's rise to become an economic superpower within just two decades, a position achieved partly by the fact the Bush administration spent trillions of dollars on wasteful and damaging wars in the Middle East while China advanced its trading power globally.
 
Sachs does not seem to realise that the ring of military bases the US had to contain the Soviet Union are going to be redeployed eastwards in strategic locations the better to be able to cut off China's oil supply from the Middle East or Africa as China increasingly rivals the US militarily.

Control of strategic resources is not, therefore, only a question only of a foreign policy to continuing to keep feeding the fuel hungry consumer economies of the West and East Asia; it is a crucial component in global power politics and economic warfare between contending Great Powers.
 
So the retention of influence in Saudi Arabia is considered vital for the US even as it reduces its oil dependence upon the kingdom and China's increases. China wants arms deals with the KSA and was ready to step in to supply arms to Egypt after the 2013 coup if the US had kept its sanctions in place.

It was hardly surprising that the terrorist blowback in Paris was connected with Syria. It is set to become rather like Afghanistan was in the 1990s when Al Qaida established itself there in the chaos following the western backed mujahedeen against the Soviet invasion and occupation.
 
Given that it was from out of Afghanistan that Al Qaida originally disseminated its global jihad with the deadly consequences on September 11 2001, it is an ominous thought that Syria is set to be as war torn and chaotic as that far off land was with the difference it is on the shores o the Mediterranean.
 
The western elites from Blair to Cameron and Hollande would argue that it is precisely that danger which compels them to join in the bombing of ISIS in Iraq as Washington sends in planes to Syria to try and destroy 'ISIL' Yet as with Afghanistan, military measures alone are ultimately futile.
 
Only diplomacy involving all the concerned regional players could possibly bring about a lasting and durable settlement. Yet this is what is rejected by the west, though that could change if Iran were successfully persuaded to abandon its purported nuclear weapons programme.

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